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April 28. 2012 1:55PM

Sorenstam delights fans at New Hampshire appearance


 

HUDSON – As she strode onto the practice tee at Golf & Ski Warehouse last Friday, Annika Sorenstam acknowledged the cheering fans who braved a spring chill that evoked her native Sweden.

“You must be from here,” the Hall of Fame golfer joked to the crowd as their applause subsided. "It's freezing. I think my Viking blood has thinned out.|"

Huddled on temporary bleachers like football fans at the Ice Bowl, the shivering diehards were reveling not in the elements, but in the rare chance to glimpse greatness. The winner of 72 LPGA tournaments, including 10 major titles, Sorenstam traveled from her Orlando home to New Hampshire to promote the grand opening of Golf & Ski's Callaway Performance Center, a state-of-the-art fitting lab for Callaway clubs.

Despite the weather, Sorenstam's afternoon exhibition attracted several hundred spectators, most of whom streamed indoors afterward for the golfer's autograph. Although it's been more than three years since the 41-year-old stepped away from LPGA competition, Sorenstam's swing is still silky smooth and her passion for the game still palpable.

That's not to say fans should expect a Sorenstam comeback. A mother of two young children who's involved in several off-course ventures, including an Orlando golf academy and a charitable foundation bearing her name, she says she has no plans to be like Michael Jordan.

“There are some parts of (playing) that I miss, but there are other parts that I do not miss,” she said during a pre-exhibition demonstration inside the Callaway Performance Center. “All the traveling, all the living out of a suitcase, all the grinding day after day, I do not miss that. I'm still involved in the game on so many different levels, so I kind of get my golf fix.”

Indeed, retirement seems to suit Sorenstam, even though she is hardly the retiring type. One of the greatest competitors the game has seen, she plays once a week now and appears quite comfortable in her new role as a golf ambassador.

Speaking into a Madonna headset as she demonstrated various shots, Sorenstam manifested her personality in spades. While sharing her considerable golf wisdom, she delighted the crowd with her easy sense of humor. Moreover, she captivated fans with revealing recollections of her most historic accomplishments.

Competing against male pros in the PGA Tour's 2003 Bank of America Colonial tournament – where she missed the 36-hole cut – was amazing but stressful, Sorenstam said. “I can't think of a tougher shot that I've had than the (first) tee shot on that Thursday,” she said. “There were a lot of people watching, and the expectations, they were mixed I'm sure.”

Although she worried about keeping her ball balanced on its tee “because I was shaking so much,” Sorenstam hit one of the longest 4-wood shots of her life.

“I was so pumped,” she said. “It was one of those days I felt like John Daly. It was going a mile.”

Sorenstam also recalled the day she shot 59 at the LPGA's 2001 Standard Register Ping tournament. Although she started with an incredible eight consecutive birdies and reeled off four more to start the back nine, she needed to make a short putt on the last green – a challenge familiar to every golfer – to post the LPGA's all-time low score.

“I just kept telling myself, first of all the ball doesn't know what my score is, doesn't know what hole it's on,” she said. “This is just a three-footer. I've made millions of these in my life. Just go up there, pick a line and commit to it and just trust it. And I did and it rolled in, and it was an amazing feeling, because I knew I'd made history.”

While continuing to entertain fans in retirement, Sorenstam has also become a mentor to emerging great Yani Tseng, the 23-year-old Taiwanese player who has won 15 LPGA titles, including five majors, in her brief career. At a charity match in Norway this summer, Sorenstam and LPGA standout Suzann Pettersen will face Tseng and Lorena Ochoa, the Mexican pro who was Sorenstam's heir apparent before retiring in 2010.

Although Sorenstam will return to New England in June to play in the CVS Caremark Charity Classic – the Rhode Island team event tour pros Brad Faxon and Billy Andrade host annually – she was in no rush to leave the Granite State last Friday, sticking around Golf & Ski Warehouse for an hour to fulfill every autograph and photo request.

As one fan left with a signed cap, he sounded an optimistic refrain on an upbeat afternoon.

“Maybe it'll help me play like her,” he said.

Through the green: Conference Carolinas named Wilton's Chelsea Demers, a senior at North Carolina's Pfeiffer University, to its all-conference first team in women's golf. Demers is the 2010 NHWGA state champion. … Keene's Chelso Barrett (76-74-75) finished tied for 32nd last Sunday at the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley, a South Carolina tournament featuring 54 of the world's top junior golfers. … The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference named Plaistow's Cortney Tilley its women's golfer of the month recently. A junior at Siena College, Tilley finished tied for eighth in her most recent start, helping lead the Saints to victory at the Hartford (Conn.) Invitational. … Grantham's Lisanne Schmidt, a senior at Eastern Kentucky, earned second-team all-Ohio Valley Conference honors for the third consecutive year.

Mike Cullity's column on New Hampshire golf appears weekly during the golf season in the New Hampshire Sunday News. E-mail him at mcullity@unionleader.com.


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